Lichborne: Looking back at major 2013 news for death knights

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Lichborne for blood, frost, and unholy death knights. In the post-Cataclysm era, death knights are no longer the new kids on the block. Let's show the other classes how a hero class gets things done.

Welcome to 2014. With this, the first Lichborne column of the new year, we're going to examine some of the biggest death knight related new stories of the past year. What were the big things that plagued us, and how were they resolved?

Patch 5.2 and the rise of unholy

2013 began with patch 5.2 on the PTR. This is the patch that gave us some long-needed updates to the unholy tree. Unholy had become a very unpopular tree. While some of this was due to the fact that it just didn't do as much damage as frost DPS, it was also in large part due to its unique rotation and rune-spending scheme, which left some ungainly gaps if you didn't apply diseases just so or pre-load death runes for your AoE rotation. Blizzard finally responded to these complaints in late December of 2012 by adding some changes to the patch 5.2 PTR, including Plague Strike adding both diseases for unholy and Reaping working for Blood Boil and Icy Touch, designed to ease the complaints. Just as a bonus, Patch 5.2 bought us what I still think were some of the most fun and flavorful set bonuses of the expansion, as well as some tweaks to make Conversion and Soul Siphon as enticing as Death Pact.

The result of this is something I trumpted in a column title in late March and stand by today. Patch 5.2 was a great time to be a death knight. The unholy changes, while perhaps arguably a bit bandaid in some places, did help to shore up a lot of the weaknesses in the unholy rotation. Suddenly, you could reapply diseases while barely missing a beat. Even the awkwardness of the AoE rotation was smoothed out by the fact that you could ensure those weird icy touches would immediately result in death runes you could use for Blood Boil, which itself would result in even more death runes. Even Gary the Garogoyle's new runic power cost (free) meant he felt more like a friend and less like a wasted opportunity cost due to his often bad AI. A last minute buff to frost helped that tree, and I don't know about you, but I still miss my undead troll sidekicks from my set bonus. The other amazing and not-to-be-missed new in patch 5.2 was understated, but important: the return of the end-game strength polearm. Listen, if you weren't hype at the chance of transmogging into Black Ice, I don't know what to tell you.

The rise and fall of hit rating

Death knights also got a place in one of the hotter debates running around the WoW community during 2013: Have hit and expertise run their course? A lot of people weighed in this issue in 2013, including yours truly.

Hit rating, and later expertise rating, have been a huge part of the physical DPS game for nearly as long as the game's been live. Ever since vanilla, it's been a mantra among most melee classes. If your hit isn't capped, you're doing it wrong. Simply put, one of the biggest, if not the biggest gearing priority for any melee, death knights included, was hitting the "special hit" cap. During 2013, that amount was 7.5%. If you were below that, you were missing crucial hits, leading to loss of damage. If you were above that, you were wasting stats. That extra hit percentage did nothing (dual wielders did get some extra accuracy, but it was considered futile for them to hit the dual wield cap). Expertise was similar. Below 7.5%? Crucial hits were getting dodged. Above? Unless you were dumb enough to be fighting in front of the mob (or were the tank), wasted.

There were two ways in which this problem came to the forefront in 2013. First, end game raid gear was just lousy with hit and expertise. For example, patch 5.2's best strength DPS trinket, Fabled Feather of Ji-Kun, had hit as its primary stat. Just as a result of gearing up, a melee could easily find themselves with too much hit rating to use on trinkets and rings alone, to say nothing of tier gear. In theory, you could fix this with reforging, which allowed you switch up the stats on gear, thus sluicing off any of that extra hit. The problem became that reforging was all that was used for. If you reforged, it was almost always to rebalance your hit and expertise rating. Even then, unless you were a math whiz, chances are you were consulting an addon or a site to figure out the exact right way to reforge, because otherwise you ended up wasting a lot of gold to rebalance your stats just right.

As we go into 2014, we're still technically haunted by the spectre of hit and expertise, but at BlizzCon 2013, Blizzard announced that patch 6.0 would see the death not only of these stats, but of reforging in general. I'm kind of thinking the latter may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but I'm ecstatic to see hit and expertise go to the graveyard. Whatever else it was, 2013 was the year of hit and expertise, and the year it began its demise in earnest.

Getting bugged in patch 5.4

Patch 5.4 was a little quieter for death knights, though it did see the addition of Riposte, a skill for death knight tanks that was meant to make up for the fact that, unlike some other classes, we could not have DPS stats that did double duty as tank stats. Instead, we got the ability to let our dodge and parry stats do double duty as extra critical strike. This skill is one that's likely to disappear or change completely in patch 6.0, as dodge and parry won't even be on most gear anymore.

The more interesting patch 5.4 news came in the form of a recently discovered proc rate bug. With the new proc rate meter on items in patch 5.4, death knights noticed that some of their gear (namely anything using the RPPM system) showed a higher proc rate chance when rune regen abilities such as Runic Corruption were active. The big issue this caused was with unholy. This bug might be what was truly propping up unholy DPS. Blizzard, of course, squashed the bug, but paid back unholy for it with a few buffs, including changing the haste on Unholy Presence and Improved Unholy Presence to "true" haste that affected everything and the customary Unholy Might mega-buff.

This bug, if nothing else, proved one thing: Rune Regeneration continues to be where it's at for all the quirks, bugs, and drama this class seems to encounter. We discussed it a bit last column, so I won't go into it too much, but if you needed one more argument for just ditching the whole thing, this bug might be it. Still, it was a fun bug while it lasted.

Learn the ropes of endgame play with WoW Insider's DK 101 guide. Make yourself invaluable to your raid group with Mind Freeze and other interrupts, gear up with pre-heroic DPS gear or pre-heroic tank gear, and plot your path to tier 11/valor point DPS gear.